Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Albany. Occupy The Internet. Occupy The Sidewalk. Occupy McDonalds. Occupy Campuses. Occupy Everywhere…. Occupy Your Own Mind.
The Occupy Movement is about to reach it’s two month milestone, and while nearly everyone has an opinion on the issue, few are actually educated on it. Whether you understand it, champion it, or disdain it; it affects you. This grassroots movement that started in the Financial District of Manhattan has reached a global status, and if you haven’t tried to educate yourself on it’s current events, than it’s high time you do. Especially considering the events within the last 24 hours all around our nation, starting at home base Zuccotti Park of downtown Manhattan.
Getting out of work last night around 1:30AM, my Twitter account was ablast with calls to action. Word had spread that the NYPD, under direct order from Mayor Bloomberg, was descending on Zuccotti Park in an effort to evict the OWS demonstrators. Admittedly I have been passive on this front up until now, but being 20-odd blocks away from breaking news, I had to see it with my own eyes.
Turning left off Canal St. and heading downtown on Broadway, it was clear something was developing. Everywhere they could fit, NYPD vans full of uniformed officers were parked and waiting on something. As I approached closer to Zuccotti Park, I began to notice pedestrians and cyclists descending on the area. Journalists and cameraman frantically running down the street in hopes of not missing the developing story. Protestors young and old scurrying towards the park. Being 2AM, roughly one hour after police moved in, some had already started to peacefully leave the scene.
When I got to the park, I was the lone civilian vehicle in a line of yellow cabs. The NYPD had already barricaded the park and forced many out onto the streets. Chants had begun, and the first round of arrests were already being piled into the vans. The police had to remove the barricade on Broadway so our line of traffic could get through, and whenever my attention diverted to the left or right, the 10s of police officers lining the streets (not to count those involved in the eviction or “crowd control”) would signal me to hurry up and move along. As I passed by the park I could tell that police had already began to rip up tents and pile the personal belongings of the protestors into one major pile, which ultimately ended up in a sanitation truck (as I understand it).
As I looped around Wall St. and made my way back uptown towards the Manhattan Bridge, more and more streets were being blocked off. Mounted officers lined Wall St. at nearly every intersection. Heading up Church St, the sounds of sirens and sights of flashing blues and reds were almost pervasive. My phone had died by the time I reached the scene, so taking pictures was not an option. Once I arrived at Canal St., even more vans of officers had lined every available street corner. The situation was getting thicker.
Enough of my personal experience however, as I don’t wish to glorify it being that I did not participate in the protests, just passed through. I had to see with it with my own eyes, the efforts of a revolution in action.
The Occupy Movement is trying to shed light on issues that have been disrupting our nation’s economy for quite some time, and the location of Wall Street serves as the symbol of the epicenter of these issues. The fact that it has spread on to countless other cities seems to be a sign of solidarity from those who can not travel to NYC, but still feel connected to the cause. After our government has bailed out multiple industries in the last 5 years, and exponentially raised our national debt during this time, something had to be done. People need to be aware of these facts, and despite the availability of information in the Internet Age, most of these things were swept under the rug. To me, this is where the beauty of the movement lies. Whether you agree with it’s actions or cause, it has raised awareness of corporate welfare and the incestual relationship between our governments and big business.
The definition of corporate welfare is sometimes tough to understand and loosely defined. (see wiki). From my understanding and through research I did in college, I came to learn that corporate welfare was initiated as a way to stimulate the growth of big business to offset the need of start up capital. It would allow businesses to open at the operational capacity they felt they needed in order to stimulate growth in their industry, and create jobs. This doesn’t sound all that bad, and if acted upon correctly, could be a great positive to our society and economy. After all, our government does have a vested interest in US companies reaching successful heights. However, part of the original ideological plans also had time constraints on them. For example, the first few years of the business would be subsidized by the government with the understanding that they were expected to reach a profitable operational status. Once that status was reached, the government assistance would be removed and the business would be on it’s own. Unfortunately along the way, there was no body to oversee that this remained true. As businesses convinced the government of future opportunities for growth, along came convincing of welfare extensions. Meanwhile, many of these business outsourced their operations over seas to cut down costs, and the government assistance that was supposed to be start up capital turned into profit for owners. This is where the problem begins to compound itself.
If corporate welfare was initiated as a means to grow business at home, why were jobs being shipped over seas? Why was there not a written end time by which a business must be self sustainable or be denied assistance? If so much government money (aka tax dollars) was to be given freely to big business, why was none of this money used to create an agency that oversaw how these corporations used their assistance money? It could have been a great idea for our economy, but zero thought was given to an infrastructure that would ensure this money was spent wisely, in the best interest of our nation as a whole.
These questions have been raised since the 60s. Research Abbie Hoffman and you’ll find many parallels to what he stood for and what OWS stands for now. The fact that our government has been able to dodge answering these questions is a strange one, and at this point it is the citizens who should be held accountable. To me, this is what the Occupy movement is all about. Citizens raising their voice and realizing that it is time they own the responsibility of protecting our economy from further exploitation. With the eviction of Zuccotti Park (and multiple other “camps” around the nation) it’s become apparent that the government is respecting this movement, possibly even fearing it.
This respect and fear is why we as citizens need to discuss OWS. It’s why we need to open debate, to take to the streets and make sure these questions are answered and the debates documented. But debate and documentation are not enough.
As those who founded The Occupy Movement have expressed, a key goal of theirs is to remain a leaderless movement. While the sentiment is respectable, I don’t know that it is sound. Concerns of too much power in one person’s hand coincides with the concern of corruption, and this is where I find the concept respectable. However, as depicted by the events since the eviction of Zuccotti Park, there is little cohesion to the efforts of those on the front lines. Disbanded protestors acted in every direction; some remained at Zuccotti until arrest, some immediately vacated for regrouping at Foley Square, some made their way to a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church. It could be argued that the cohesion that brought together this afternoon’s march on Zuccotti was brought on by those watching from their computers and Twitter feeds more than those on the streets. Countless live streams and RSS feeds disseminated information to those on the front lines who couldn’t keep in contact with themselves. Viewers sent money to personal bank accounts of those on the front line in order to buy new camera and phone batteries, and to send updates of the court proceedings from this afternoon. It’s a microcosm of the lack of “on the ground” cohesion that will ultimately need to be addressed.
Even after your own personal research, and the expression of my personal opinions, you may ask yourself why does this affect you or what can you do to help? As a member of one of our nation’s younger generations, the continual unmonitored distribution of government money concerns me greatly. If these corporations are not held accountable for their own success, and the government is continually willing to aid them through failure, then surely there will be no money left for our Social Security, our national infrastructure, health care and a sound education system. When a new restaurant opens in your neighborhood with bad food and poor service, does your city replace their lack of profit with tax dollars so they can remain operational? Of course not. If you provide an undesirable and unprofitable service, the survival of the fittest side of capitalism should ring true and your business should cease to exist. This creates healthy competition and only serves to better the quality of products and services that we as consumers have available to us.
If protesting isn’t your idea of a good time, or seems out of reach from the life you find yourself in, that doesn’t mean you just have to sit idly by and watch it all continue. First thing first is vote. Research those running for public office, and make sure you understand their opinion and stance on these issues (or any issues that matter to you). Second is be an educated consumer. Take time to understand the corporate relationships between the products and services you buy and where the profit from your expense goes. Take the time to seek out businesses that are not involved in the tangled web of corporate welfare. You’ll find they are often your locally owned establishments, and while their goods and services may cost a bit more, it is with good reason. That lower price tag you see at your favorite national chain is probably there because your tax dollars are supplementing the rest of their overhead cost so their profit margin rises. Taking advantage of this fact only compounds the problem. Also, if you hear of a bail out, educate yourself on it. Learn which companies in that particular marketplace have received this preferential treatment, and choose to shop with those who did not need the governments’ help to run a sustainable enterprise. Specifically with this latest bank bail out, do the homework. If your bank received funding from the government in order to stay afloat, find another institution to keep your money in (and no I don’t mean a can in your grandmother’s back yard). The Credit Unions often provide better customer service, higher interest rates, and did not need bail outs from the bad business decisions they made under other names or sister companies.
As for the Occupy Movement as a whole, the next step is crucial. These evictions, whether ultimately found unconstitutional or not, have reignited the media coverage of their cause. This was why the physical occupation began. It created a front line, it broke the routine, and that couldn’t be ignored. Now that they have the nation’s attention again, their (our) next move is crucial. It seems as though these camps will cease to exist, and therefore before attention diverts back to Kim Kardashian’s next marriage and subsequent divorce, the activists need to speak up and make sure their goals and ideals are heard, understood, and ultimately acted upon. New forums of debate have been opened amongst citizens, and it needs to carry over to the political arena, to media of all kinds. Citizens need to call on each other for leadership, but to also call on their leaders for change. It’s been said time and time again, but with the Movement fresh on everyone’s mind, it’s time they make us all understand what it is they are fighting for; what WE need to fight for.